Despite the title, it’s not a good idea to cue up Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special with a special someone in hopes that viewing it will lead to fornication. By the time you get to Fred Armisen performing an ultrasound on a piece of chocolate your libido will be dead, but at least you’ll be laughing so hard it doesn’t matter that you’re fully clothed. The special is the love child of the minds behind Comedy Bang! Bang!, The Lonely Island, and the baby-making music of the ’90s. Which is to say it is, for the most part, inspired lunacy about baby-making. Co-directed by Scott Aukerman and Akiva Schaffer, it unites an army of comedy stars for the purpose of lampooning our culture’s most ridiculous holiday and belting out some smooth jams.
What there is of plot is thus: Michael Bolton loves Valentine’s Day because it’s 10 months from Christmas. He’s singing about that when Santa comes to him with a request. The elves have made too many toys so Bolton needs to make sure a ludicrous amount of children come into the world. And how will he do that? Host a TV special that inspires sexy time and, subsequently, pregnancies. The result is an unholy hybrid of a PBS telethon and a Sonny & Cher-style variety show. Sarah Silverman and Randall Park sing a dirty ditty about ass play and pubic hair. (Sample lyrics: “You’re a Jewish / And you’re Korean / Open your butt / ’Cuz I’d like to see in.”) Maya Rudolph does a triumphant number about key changes that’s nothing short of a vocal feat, and yet another reminder that 21st century television has failed to do justice to her talents. Eric Andre has a segment as a deranged dance teacher. Andy Samberg appears as Kenny G, while the real Kenny G also makes a cameo. All the while a group of celebs man the phones, tallying the amount babies conceived. The game participants include Louie Anderson, Janeane Garofalo, and Brooke Shields, all armed with quips.
Back in 2015 Netflix put out A Very Murray Christmas, a not entirely dissimilar enterprise in which Bill Murray morosely wandered around the Carlyle Hotel. Helmed by Sofia Coppola, it was a much lower key affair than the Bolton project. The bizarro pitch of the Valentine’s Day endeavor works in its favor and meshes well with the medium. It careens from one absurdity to another and only begins to lag in its latter half when some semblance of a plot tries to creep in, resulting in a criminal underuse of Casey Wilson.
Bolton himself is an oddly compelling figure to have at its center. He is not a good actor by any means, and he probably wouldn’t be funny out of context. His delivery is bland, and his conventionally handsome, Ken-doll face doesn’t register much emotion. But all of this combines to make him a perfect foil when paired opposite someone like Will Forte—who pops up as Michael Fulton, Bolton’s twin brother who mysteriously has a different last name. While his fellow performers go huge around him, Bolton remains stoic. And, of course, his earnestness, especially when he’s singing, is the reason why the joke works at all. The Lonely Island tapped into this on its 2011 track “Jack Sparrow,” which gets a pared-down rendition here, accompanied by an interpretive dance. As a vocalist he’s also impeachable, a fact reaffirmed by his ability to take on an array of styles. He does Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock And Roll” in a Risky Business tribute and “Nessun Dorma” in a Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation homage. His own hit “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” gets a work out as well. The special is arguably lacking in catchy original music, but that’s the smallest of gripes. (And a worthy reminder that the Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping soundtrack has that in spades.)
Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special is incredibly heteronormative—the sex being discussed here is between a man and a woman for purposes of procreation. But it’s also a hilarious assault on the very idea of conventional, heteronormative sexiness. It’s ideal Valentine’s Day programming for people who hate the nonsensical commercialism of Valentine’s Day and for anyone who can’t resist unfettered silliness.